California dreaming, on such a winter's day.
So it was with my trip to Malibu to see Gregory Popovitch and his fifteen trained performing housecats.
To begin, a clarification: Los Angeles is not a city. I know it is a city by legal definition, and perhaps a dozen or so people in the bowels of City Hall think of it as a city, but it’s not a city. Los Angeles is a loose confederation of about forty principalities which view their neighbors with fear and confusion. Periodic border wars break out between Santa Monica and Venice. West Hollywood has been known to lob Scud missiles into Burbank’s air space. I exaggerate, but not by nearly enough. I have a friend who swears she has never been east of La Cienega. This means she has never seen about 2/3 of L.A. The parochialism goes both ways; the East side types view driving west of Fairfax as an invitation to be dragged from their cars and forced into Banana Republic khakis while their cars are stripped of old Germs tapes to be replaced with Josh Groban CDs.
Partially due to its size, partially due to our completely anemic public transport system [which leads to everyone driving, which leads to soul-crushing traffic, which is another reason in itself], and partially due to the general time-crunching nature of life in the 21st century, most people living in Los Angeles don’t explore Los Angeles. If you see someone driving around looking at the buildings, they are from out of town. People go to museums to meet people they met online. Beaches are mostly where we stash our insane and/or chemically-dependant citizens.
And then there is Malibu.
Malibu is a place with absolutely no sense of proportion. The scenery isn’t just lovely; it’s perfect -- except during the fires and mudslides, which are biblical in their scope. The discretionary income isn’t merely large; it could fund malaria treatments in up to twenty developing nations -- which is something best not to dwell on as you window shop on the Coast Highway. The people aren’t lovely; half of them are the physical definition of beauty -- the other half are the definition of what kind of bank statement it requires to breed with the physical definition of beauty.
Malibu is proudly inconvenient; it seems to derive perverse pleasure in having only two major routes of entry, both of which have been known to close due to the aforementioned fires or mudslides. If Gregory Popovitch had brought his amazing trained housecats anywhere into Los Angeles proper, I would have left Malibu to the locals and the Malibu fire department, as Nature intended. But, apparently, the cats work best with the tang of salt in the air, and Malibu was our only option.
Knowing my daughter as well as I do, I didn’t tell her about this ahead of time, because the shriek of joy would have been deafening to the neighbors and the steady drip of “Is it Sunday yet?” would have been beyond tolerating. I decided it would be fun not to tell her until we got to the theater. This fabulously ill-conceived idea meant over an hour of unrelenting backseat prodding while I drove through Malibu Canyon on a glorious, blue-sky autumn day.
“Give me a hint.”
“You’ll see when we get there.”
“Are we going to see a movie?”
“I told you, I’m not giving you a hint.”
“So it’s not a movie.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“It’s a movie! Yeah!”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Are we going to see Elizabeth?”
“Do we ever drive this way to see Elizabeth?”
“Are we going to see Elizabeth at someone else’s house?”
“DO YOU WANT ME TO TURN THE CAR AROUND?”
(Long, sullen pause)
“Does it start with a vowel?”
After thirty minutes, all I wanted to was drink heavily and blurt out the details, but all that would have told her was that
(a) we were going to see trained housecats
(b) It takes a half-hour of badgering to get Mommy to do your bidding, and neither of us needed that fact out in the open.
When Daughter and I finally arrived in Malibu and alit from the car at Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf for a restorative interlude, the first person I saw was a reasonably well-known model/actress and her small child, and I felt gratified. I imagine it’s like going on safari in Kenya; there’s no guarantee you’ll see giraffes lazily pulling leaves off the banyan tree, but you’d feel gypped if you didn’t, right? A Malibu visit without seeing someone who has graced a “Sports Illustrated” cover feels…hollow. I noted she was wearing flip-flops. Malibu has the distinction of adding the concept of “Holiday flip-flops” to the American fashion consciousness, right up there with “Formal Uggs”.
I pondered this further as Daughter gnawed her chocolate-covered graham cracker and I sipped my green tea. At the table next to me was a woman and what appeared to be her daughter. One of them had highlighted hair, cut-off mini-skirt, pink Uggs, tank top and a leather jacket. The other one had highlighted hair, cut-off mini-skirt, blue Uggs, tank top and a leather jacket. I estimated the daughter to be twelve and the mother to be forty, at least (between the uniform tan and the Botox, the mother appeared to have achieved an armed truce with aging). Malibu’s municipal code, I decided, decreed that all women should be eighteen; anyone not actively trying to be confused for Hilary Duff is taken to the Ventura County line, stripped of her thousand-dollar Balenciaga Hobo bag and shoved into the nearest Sizzler.
My friend, the middle-aged teenager, was talking intently to someone on her pink, crystal-covered cell phone. Being as I am nosy, I listened in.
“…so I asked someone working there ‘Like, what time do you close?’ and she was all, ‘Excuse me, we never close’ and I was, like, shocked…You could get whatever you wanted there. Food, clothing, prescriptions filled, and everything was so cheap!...I asked her if they were here in California, and she was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ Turns out, they’re everywhere. The guy who started them wrote a book or something...”
No, it couldn’t be.
It wasn’t possible.
This Malibu maven was illuminating her friend about this marvelous new find called WAL-MART!
My feelings about Wal-Mart notwithstanding, how shielded do you have to be before you haven’t heard of the largest store in the world? This isn’t the insulating properties of wealth, either; I’m guessing Bill Gates would recognize Sam Walton’s emporium if he stumbled in by accident. No, this is small-town parochialism at its worst. Small-town insularity wearing a six-carat yellow diamond for a Sunday afternoon soy latte.
We got back into the car and made the final leg of the journey to the theater. The show had a marvelous lack of logic; there was juggling, then trained dogs, and then Mr. Popovich’s teenage daughter twirling many Hula Hoops and hopping around on one foot. The final third of the show was the long-awaited housecats, and They Were Something. They wore frilly collars without obvious complaint. There wasn’t a hairball in sight. They didn’t appear to be drugged. Considering how Lulabelle and I are currently negotiating the degree to which she is allowed to attack my foot when I’m sleeping, it was humbling to realize how someone of my species had the patience and cunning to convince fifteen cats to do his bidding in Rockettes-like synchronization.
Daughter screamed with joy and laughter for the entire show, and then respectfully patted one of the frilly-necked feline stars out front. All in all, it was a wonderful evening. We stepped out into the perfect Malibu night and waited for the shuttle to take us back to our car. Daughter grabbed my hand and pointed at the night sky.
“Mommy, what are all of those?”
“Those are stars, honey.”
“We don’t have that many.”
I thought about explaining the idea of light pollution, but changed my mind.
“You’re right. Malibu has stars and Persian cats that can jump through hoops.”
Daughter reminded me, “Chocolate cookies, too” and sighed in pleasure.
We packed our bags and passports, tipped the bellboy, and headed home.